Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I won't let the Sun go down on me.

The Sun's Brian Lilley wrote a blog post defending his newspaper chain's coverage of the Homegrown "story" last week against my Tweeted criticism of it. His response is fairly maddening right from the top - saying someone is "ignorant of the realities of the arts" is not the same as saying they're ignorant. To set the record straight on that point, I'm sure Mr Lilley is not ignorant about many subjects and I look forward to discovering which ones now that I've started to follow his Twitter account.

Anyway, I've been trying to post a comment to Lilley's blog post since last week and it hasn't appeared. So I'm posting it here on my long-defunct personal blog rather than my Globe one, because it's was never intended as a full-on blog post and, well, it's a bit dated now.


Mr Lilley, can you honestly tell me with a straight face that, shucks, all the Sun has been doing is reporting facts and asking questions?

The Sun's stories about Homegrown, right from that Saturday cover story titled "Sympathy for the devil", have had an obviously negative slant. They have exaggerated the extent of - and tried to incite outrage over - the trickle of government funding that may have reached Homegrown through funding for the festival that is presenting it and 41 other plays, plus a series of concerts and other events. (The only direct funding was a $6000 grant from the Toronto Arts Council for a workshop of an earlier, fictional version of the play that was never produced.)

Remember how the Sun printed a list of telephone numbers of government and corporate sponsors of SummerWorks last week so readers could let them know how they felt about a play neither they nor any Sun reporters had seen or read? Does the Sun usually provide helpful lists of contacts for the subjects of its stories? How can you deny this was a campaign against the alleged funding of this play?

Here, in this blog post, you correct note that "the federal government and a couple of banks were sponsoring, indirectly, the presentation of this play". Why did you not use the word "indirectly" in your oh-so-objective news report? The lede for the story you contributed to the Sun's coverage was: "There will be no review and no withdrawal of federal funding for a play that gives a sympathetic portrayal of convicted terrorist Shareef Abdelhaleem." Well, how could there be a review or withdrawal of federal funding for the play, where there was never any federal funding for this play?

That's one of the aspects of this "controversy" that irritates me the most. I have a certain understanding of people who say: I can't believe my tax dollars went directly to support X work of art. I've said that myself from time to time. But questioning money going directly to Young People Effing, for example, is a different thing from questioning all of the money that goes to the Toronto International Film Festival because it presented Young People Effing along with a couple hundred other films.

The Sun articles have tried to blur that distinction. At the very very most - and this is based on a no-doubt false assumption that SummerWorks's Canadian Heritage grant was divided equally among the plays - Homegrown could be said to have got $840 or so from the feds, as you've said in your blog post, indirectly.

I might as well write an outraged series of stories about how $3-million in federal tax money went to support the Sun's attack on Homegrown. Indeed, I have seen several ads for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival next to the Sun's articles about Homegrown. The SSF received $3-million dollars from Ottawa's Marquee Tourism Events Program to support its marketing initiatives. That money is what likely paid for those ads on the Sun's website, indirectly. Where's the review and withdrawal of federal funding for Toronto Sun articles?

The Sun's preemptive campaign against Homegrown was unfair from the start, taking two words from an interview with a fairly green playwright - "sympathetic portrayal" - and using them to harass her then-unseen play and impune the SummerWorks festival, one of the most vibrant theatre festivals in the country, the launching point for so many of the most exciting new plays of the past decade, and one of the few artistic endeavours in this country unafraid to take risks.

That sums up my objection to your paper's coverage. Things got a bit better once David Akin was on the story (and it actually became a story when the PMO commented).

As to what you say in this blog post, you've taken one of my tweets out of context and ascribed opinions to me that I don't hold. I certainly don't believe there's "a right to arts funding" or that "just because a play is written it should be funded". Who thinks that? That's certainly not the case right now in Canada, nor should it be.

Our democratically elected governments have chosen to help fund the arts to a limited degree and I agree with that decision - in fact I'd like us to increase funding for the arts.

If someone has a problem with funding, take it up with the politicians - don't attack artists, the vast majority of whom live in or near the poverty level, for applying and getting some of that funding. Why not go after the Prime Minister who is oh-so-concerned about funding plays that "glorify terrorism" (which Homegrown, misguided as it may be, does not), but is too afraid to actually take concrete action on that front for fear of political backlash. He, like the Sun, is just rousing the rabble. Sorry, but I expect more from journalists and politicians.

1 comment:

Terry K Bursey said...

Thanks for this Mr Nestruck. It's good to see someone standing up to the (sadly typical) demagoguery of the Toronto Sun.